Bikepacking to the lonely Stallion Wilderness Study Area
Updated: Nov 17, 2022
Journey to a seriously underappreciated New Mexican wilderness few know about.
Stallion Wilderness Study Area is a wild place located approximately 15 miles from Socorro and 50 miles from Belen. This area is composed of steep escarpments, dramatic badlands full of cryptobiotic soil, and draws with Giant Sacaton forming mazes between their tuffs. This area has tricky access points, with the official entry starting South on 380. All other access points are very primitive roads that are barely accessible to even vehicles, hence this wilderness being a truly tough place to enter. Even though it is a tricky place to enter, its vivid beauty and remoteness offers a wild experience unlike other bikepacking routes in New Mexico.
This route enters Stallion WSA from an extremely primitive road on the East side of the escarpments. It follows an arroyo between two depressions separating the North and South portions, effectively being the only entry point that doesn't scale a sheer escarpment. The arroyo itself is composed of deep red sandstone mixed with black, yellow, and brown soils, creating a colorful slot canyon into this wild place. This badland is a surreal place full of striking colors and dramatic mountains in every direction. Where the camping spot is located is in a compressed landscape full of canyons, big mountains, valleys, mesas, volcano-like hills, otherworldly textures in the soil, juniper forests and giant grasslands. The badland portion of this adventure is relatively small but filled to the brim with extraordinary sights.
The "road" itself is as primitive as it gets. It has no visible vehicle tracks of any kind, it appears and disappears inside of the arroyo, and is completely undriveable on the Western side of the road due to Giant Sacaton draws. The beauty of this road is that it is only traversable on horseback, walking, or by bicycle. While exploring this path, I couldn't even imagine a dirtbike being able to effectively drive the course of this small, two mile road. The only known visitors I could find in the vicinity of this road were horses, I could envision this by the horse scat that was in the area and also the fact that it is named Stallion. Being that this whole area is cryptobiotic soils and retains tracks for a very long time, the utter lack of visible visitors to the area became very apparent.
Even though this small road is very rugged and entails some very tough hike-a-bikes, it is a true hidden gem located smack dab in the middle of nowhere. While doing research for this route, I imagined the arroyo would be a standard arroyo with normal desert scenery and wouldn't be too dramatic. I was very wrong about this the second I entered the slot canyon and was greeted with the painted soil, I was honestly blown away. How this place hasn't been documented and made known to a larger audience is kind of shocking. This badland is one of the most beautiful places I have ever stumbled upon while exploring New Mexico. It isn't the largest or most dramatic landscape around, yet it's subtle complexity and alien-like textures make it truly worth the effort of cycling to this far off place. This section of Stallion WSA is a geography nerds dream compressed in a several mile area.
Cycling to this remote and stunning place is actually very simple as far as cycling is concerned, yet requires some special considerations to do so safely. The main issue is water sources. There is one sinkhole located on the West side of the road by the windmill and that is the only water I found in the whole area. This water looked very gross and had a urine-like color, is located near a cattle grazing area, and I could imagine would be full of some pretty harsh minerals. I would only utilize this water if it was absolutely necessary, and even then It may be dried up during the drier months. Another issue worth considering is time of year to ride this route. Being that it traverses a arroyo/slot canyon, it is not safe to enter this area if there is rain in the area. This arroyo is very prone to flash floods during the monsoons, and the remoteness of this place makes it a dangerous endeavor to attempt during less than ideal conditions. During the summer months, temperatures can easily exceed 100 degrees during the day and there is absolutely no shade found in the whole area. All the dirt roads leading into this area become muddy quagmires if there is any moisture present so it is not advisable to attempt while snowy or after rain. The last point of concern is it's sheer remoteness. This area is inaccessible to vehicles and very far from the nearest resupply point/town. Do not attempt this if you are not familiar with remote backcountry travel and wilderness safety skills, This is a very harsh environment unsuitable for beginner outdoorsman. This is not a technical bikepacking route but these considerations are vital to safely attempt this adventure.
This route is 50% paved, 50% unpaved. The first half is quick moving while on the pavement. All pavement has a wide shoulder and somewhat minimal traffic. The dirt section is tame minus the last 5 miles. It can become muddy if there has been recent moisture in the area.
Practice backcountry caution while traversing the arroyo. There is no cell service and it is inaccessible to vehicles.
Bring 8-10 liters of water at a minimum. There are no water sources once you leave Belen. If you can find water in the area it is of very low quality.
Prepare for lots of sun exposure. This entire route has next to no shade. It gets extremely hot in the summer with no sun relief.
Once you get to the big turn into the arroyo area, you will pass right next to a ranch with a metal dragon in the front yard. The owner of this ranch, Keith, is a very nice gentleman and has given me permission to let others know about this route. If you see him definitely strike up a conversation or just say hi! He likes seeing visitors in his neck of the woods. Be respectful of the ranch while passing through it. It is private property.
This route is best done on a mountain bike, although a gravel bike can handle 90% of the route with no issue, albeit with less comfort. There is allot of hike-a-bike in the arroyo regardless of what tire size you are running.
The camp site is surrounded by fragile cryptobiotic soil. Try to minimize your footprint while exploring the area. There isn't a piece of trash in the whole section, keep it that way.
To begin this route, I recommend utilizing the Rail Runner Train. It can be boarded from Santa Fe or Albuquerque. It has ample space for loaded bikes and is more economical/relaxing than driving.
This is part of a larger Trans-New Mexico route that is currently being developed. The finished route will be published once completed and ridden at a later time.
To begin this route, I pedaled from my house in Albuquerque to the Sandia train station to catch the Rail Runner heading South. I took the earliest train going to Belen, and would eventually arrive there right around 8am.
Once off the train I began the paved section of this route. The paved section is right around 25mi and goes through Belen and a couple other smaller communities. The shoulder was nice and wide and had very minimal traffic minus the odd semi and work truck passing by. The scenery of this area comprises large vistas of the Manzano Mountains to the East, Sierra Ladrones to the West, and small to medium sized homesteads all along the road. For being a paved section of a bikepacking route, this road is actually kind of decent to cycle on due to the simple scenery and high-quality paved road.
I eventually arrived at the off-pavement section of this route after 25mi. I was greeted by a hardpack dirt road that appeared to be pretty well maintained and had a deep ochre color. This road would be a pleasure to cycle on during the entire duration of the trip due to the lack of washboard and sand, minus some small patches of mud I would eventually fall into on the return to Belen.
I was a little apprehensive while traversing the beginning of this road because of ambiguous private property signage. A pet peeve of mine is when property owners adorn open cattle guards and gates with signage stating "No Trespassing" and other warnings not to enter the area, even though it is perfectly legal to travel through. This road is completely open to the public, but to a novice it could reasonably appear to be a private road due to the misleading use of signs. I understand land owners use this technique to keep visitors from accessing the area in general, however it creates land usage issues due to the misleading nature of this practice. I believe all gates and large swaths of land should be open for public use and travel, but that's a story for another day.
After cycling for several miles along this nice dirt road, I came upon an area where the road was completely flooded for several hundred feet and had no apparent way of crossing it besides trekking through some nearby grasslands. Being that walking my bike across this grass was the only way of passing this obstacle, I started the relatively short ruck, thinking that it would be a standard grassland like I have seen before. I quickly realized how awful of a decision this was because the grass quickly became taller than I was and had a maze-like labyrinth from which these Giant Sacaton grasses were growing. I was naturally fearful of snakes living in these miniature corridors or taking a step and twisting an ankle especially considering I couldn't see the ground due to the staggering amount of grass tufts in every direction. I ended up having to pull my bike through that swampy mess to get to the other side and nearly suffering heat stroke due to the intense level of exertion that this task entailed. Once I got out of this verdant hellscape, I came to the realization that this was literally the hardest thing I've ever done while bikepacking. The sheer amount of force it took to drag my bike across this grassy mass ended up twisting my front fork and handlebar into an off kilter position, and I also lost my Adidas Slides I've had for shy of ten years while doing so. Shortly after leaving this area I rode to the top of the hill, parked my bike on the side of the road, and took an hour long nap under the sparse shade on a Pinon tree to shelter myself from the intense midday heat.
Upon waking up from this cat nap, I looked at the road I was heading on due South and was greeted with a dark mass of clouds with the odd lightning strike to illuminate its shadows. Fearing an impending monsoon coming my direction, I mounted my bike and furiously pedaled the remaining distance to avoid this downpour. To my luck, the storm traveled East while I went into a Southwest direction, effectively allowing myself to avoid a muddy situation.
After some miles of cycling past this storm, I came across the final turn which would lead into the Stallion WSA. I was momentarily confused as to which turn to take because the road I needed to go down was directly behind an inhabited ranch house. I did a 180 to get to the turnoff and was greeted by a nice fellow waving while a crowd of small dogs ran ferociously towards me. I talked to the gentleman to gather some info about which direction to go and how to achieve this route. Keith, the ranch owner, was extremely helpful and knowledgeable about the entire area and gave me some great pointers to safely enter Stallion WSA. He then gave me permission to enter his ranch to get to the arroyo and said if anyone ever wants to ride this route also that it is a-ok and just to say hi while passing his house! I was worried he wouldn't let me traverse his ranch but he ended up being an absolute delight and allowed this route to come to fruition.
Once passing the ranch, I took the final turn towards the arroyo onto a nearly imperceptible road that would lead me to my destination. I initially passed the turnoff because it was completely overgrown, but I just had to trust my GPS that it was indeed where I needed to go. I cycle across this overgrown road for a ways until it eventually drops off into the arroyo I had been traveling towards all day. I pushed my bike into the arroyo itself and was relieved I had made it to this spot I had been dreaming of for the entire year. Simply accessing this wilderness in the roundabout way I had been concocting for months was an extremely satisfying moment. It made the days suffering worth it and I was blessed with another burst of energy, which I would unknowingly need to get to the camping spot, which is only accessible by a steep and loose hike-a-bike up fragile soil mixed with cryptobiotic secretions. Upon reaching camp I was ecstatic at finally reaching my dreamt of destination and blown away by its rugged beauty.
Every so often on my travels to the lesser known corners of New Mexico I am greeted with an absolute hidden gem of a spot. This arroyo in Stallion WSA is a fantastic example of that, which I personally describe as a culmination of my hard work and diligence, but others may attribute to sheer luck and odds. This area is unremarkable while scouring the maps and there isn't a single decent picture of it online, leading me to believe that it was a simple desert landscape wholly unremarkable, being only a stepping stone for a larger bike route. The simple fact that this place is so remarkable and unique warranted the necessity of creating this post and letting others know of this little place full of wonder.
I would end up staying two days at my camping spots, indulging in its surreal beauty, and verifying that the road would indeed lead to a maintained road that will take me further South, thereby allowing a much larger route to be established. This expedition ended up being a great success with everything going according to plan, much to my chagrin. This will end up being an amazing first day to a New Mexico bikepacking epic I am working on and will set the tone of the adventure as being remote and rugged, which is what I am going for. This was a very physically taxing day to reach this hidden camping spot, yet the payoff was more than worth it and even commands this destination to be an adventure in itself.
Once I was thoroughly satisfied with how the route and camping spot turned out, I began the final return back to Belen. The ride back was plenty uneventful and ended up being a chill pedal back to the train station. Once I reached Belen I got my customary green chile cheeseburger with the fixings, ate it, went to a park to take a nap, then finally took the train back to Albuquerque. Mission accomplished. Touch down. Great Job!
Leave me a message if you have any questions! I'm happy to help with what I can!